Liturgy of the Presanctified


How does the OOC view this practice? I would've never guessed that the EO would preserve the body on the altar throughout the weekdays in lent. As Coptic people, we always consume the body entirely after any liturgy. It's such a bizarre practice. Does this present any issues with unity between the EO and the OO?



  • The Church of Alexandria, the Coptic Church, used to have a pre-sanctified sacraments till it was forbidden by St. Athanasius. Other Oriental Churches, the Armenian, still have this Tradition.

    The answer is no, it will not have an effect on the Church unity.

  • Woah, how does pre-sanctified sacraments work out?

    What is the purpose of that and WHY do they do that?
  • Im not an expert on their rites but in a nutshell, part of the sunday communion is preserved for lent weekday liturgies. They believe that the consecration of the bread and wine is a "festive" occasion, only to be done on sundays of lent. Therefore, their local parishes might do the friday night liturgies where they fast all day, but instead of consecrating new bread and wine, they use the remaining fragments from last Sunday's liturgies. What's interesting to note is that some actually suggest that St. Severus of Antioch (a strictly Oriental Orthodox saint) is the one who began this. I really would like to know more about this.

  • [quote author=imikhail link=topic=11006.msg133308#msg133308 date=1300448119]
    What's interesting to note is that some actually suggest that St. Severus of Antioch (a strictly Oriental Orthodox saint) is the one who began this. I really would like to know more about this.


    The liturgies of the presanctified gifts are as old as the Church itself, it goes back to the first centuries when the communion was given in the hands of the communicants. Because there were not many parishes or Bishops (the bishops used to celebrate the Eucharist) to cover many places and because of the persecution, the communion was handed out, preserved by those who attended and passed out to the sick, the prisoners. travelers.

    Also, the monastic life was not as ordered as it was now, liturgies were only held on Sundays, so the monks would keep part of the Holy gifts for the rest of the week. That is why the pre sanctified liturgies arose. The Coptic Church used to have one and because of the warm weather Egypt has, the gifts would rotten. St Athanasius banned the practice  in his 64th canon.

    The Tradition still remains in the other Oriental Churches.

  • My understandiing of the development is that there are several different aspects of eucharistic practice which must be understood separately.

    i. The laity for the first centuries were allowed to take the eucharistic Body home with them and would commune themselves through the week. They were also of course allowed to touch the eucharist. This practice persisted quite late into the patristic period. I can think of a letter to St Severus where someone wanted him to send some eucharist so that he could be sure it had been consecrated by a truly Orthodox bishop. This was in the early 6th century. St Severus only criticises the idea that there are 'better' eucharists depending on the consecrating bishop or priest, but he does not criticise the idea of sending the eucharistic elements so that they might be consumed outside the liturgical context.

    ii. The 64th canon of St Athanasius does not seem to me to be addressing the issue of pre-sanctified liturgies, nor do I think that they occurred at this time. Monks and laity would take the eucharist home, but their private consumption of it was in a prayerful but not liturgical context. St Athanasius seems to me to be addressing the situation of a priest deciding to use old bread for the eucharistic sacrifice itself. This is what is forbidden. When the eucharist is to be celebrated it must be with a fresh loaf. But the pre-sanctitifed liturgy was not and is not a new liturgy or a new sacrifice.

    iii. My understanding is that St Severus himself composed a pre-sanctified liturgy and introduced it as a result of the pressures of persecution. It was the case that a congregation might not have a priest, or at least an Orthodox priest, and so a full deacon might receive the eucharist from an Orthodox priest and offer the pre-sanctified liturgy with the congregation. The pre-sanctified liturgy is not a liturgy in any full sense, but is a liturgical context for the distribution of the gifts. In essence, the presence of Christ in the eucharistic portion would consecrate by extension a new loaf and cup.

    iv. As far as I understand there are examples of Coptic pre-sanctified texts dating up to the 9th/10th centuries. In the 10th century there was STILL a pre-sanctified communion on the Tuesday of Holy Week among the Coptic Orthodox.

    v. Historical records show that in Rome and Alexandria the general rule that liturgies should not be celebrated during Lent was modified, first to the use of a pre-sanctified liturgy as elsewhere, and then to a full liturgy. The pre-sanctified liturgy was used in Egypt on the Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays of Lent. The Syrians and Armenians all had pre-sanctified liturgies, the Syrian one being composed by St Severus.

    It seems to me that the disuse of the pre-sanctified liturgy in Egypt was not down to the eucharistic elements suffering from the Egyptian climate, since the pre-sanctified liturgy was used for at least 700 years, and the laity had been taking communion home with them for some centuries since the beginning of the Church. It seems to me that the local Church preferred to have a full eucharistic service and so the pre-sanctified became less necessary or useful. It may well also have been the case that the Church preferred not to have eucharistic elements reserved in the Churches where they might be in danger from desecration by Muslims.

    In a missionary context, such as is found in the West, it would be interesting to consider whether the pre-sanctified liturgy had a place, since in some respects the situation is similar to that which led St Severus to compose just such a text where congregations are not always able to access a priest.

    Father Peter
  • fascinating reading.
  • The 64th canon of St. Athanasius does not seem to me to be addressing the issue of pre-sanctified liturgies

    With all due respect Father Peter. The Coptic Church, in its teachings in the seminaries, refers to the 64th canon as the reason the practice of the presanctified gifts was stopped. There are other canons that were professed in the medieval ages like those of Pope Khristodolo.

  • That doesn't mean it is correct though.

    I can point to quite a few modern academic works, all references Coptic manuscripts which show clearly that the canon o St Athanasius has nothing to do with the pre-sanctified liturgy and that a pre-sanctified liturgy was in use as late as the 10th century.

    There is a great difference between the subject of St Athanasius' canon, which is clearly the celebration of the liturgy with old bread, and the pre-sanctified liturgy which is not a liturgy at all but a vesperal distribution of the elements.

    Father Peter
  • There is a great difference between the subject of St Athanasius' canon, which is clearly the celebration of the liturgy with old bread, and the pre-sanctified liturgy which is not a liturgy at all but a vesperal distribution of the elements.

    In the following discussion, I have included the text of the canon so there is no confusion as to what we are talking about.

    But first let me explain what is presanctified gifts: They are gifts which were used in a prior liturgy kept or reserved to be used later for the purpose of Holy Communion .. This is called Reservation. So, how did the practice started and evolved and what is the attitude of the Coptic Church toward it.

    The discussion here is not geared toward whether the practice is right or wrong, but rather to shed the light on how the practice of reservation was abandoned in the Coptic Church. Here is a snapshot:

    The earliest evidence of Reservation comes from St. Justin the Martyr (100-165) in his first Apology chap 65 in which he explained how the deacons took communion.

    In the 3rd century, St Hipplytos, Tertullian, Novatian and St Cyperian all testify to the practice of taking the Eucharist home from the Sunday liturgy to communicate oneself on weekdays when there was no liturgical assembly.

    St Dionysius the Great, Pope of Alexandria tells us a real story about communicating to the dying from the reserved sacraments.

    St Basil the Great in his letter 93 explains the practice in the Church of Alexandria, the Coptic Church. St Cyril, the pillar of faith, also defends the Holiness of the reserved gifts.

    However, by the 4th century the spread of churches in the cities gave way to the decline of the practice. Alexandria, in particular,
    practiced the Reservation out of necessity and once the practical reasons went away, the practice declined till it disappeared in the Middle Ages.

    Following are the teachings against the Reservation:
    Origen in Homily 5 on Leviticus comparing the eating of the Passover completely without leaving anything for the following day to eating the Communion and nothing should be left.

    Canon 64 of St Athanasius (or 78 according to the Coptic numbering). Hear is its text:
    "Concerning the holy mysteries, the body of Christ and His blood, they shall not let aught thereof remain from evening to the morning, but shall do it whenever they wish  as the holy altar is always ready."

    The 98th canon of St Basil in the Coptic collection has the same spirit as that of St. Athansius.

    The Order of the Priesthood attributed to Sawiros of Ashmounein in the 10th century listed the Reservation among the differences between the Copts and the Melchites (the Greek Church in Egypt)

    Bishop Mihkail of Demiatta justifies the absence of the Reserved Sacraments though the appeal to the canons of the fathers (i.e. St Basil, St Athanasius)

    Pope Khristodolo in the 11th century commanded the monks of St Makarius to stop the practice of Reservation

    Ibn Kabar in the 14th century in his Lamp book lists the differences between the Copts and the Latins, Armeneans, and the Melechites and uses the Reserved Sacraments as one of them.

    Pope Cyril in the 16th century was the first to put rules regarding the communion for the sick and that it has to be on the same day of the liturgical celebration and the Church is still following those rules

    So, we see that the Church of Alexandria since the 4th century, starting with Pope Athanasius, did not like to reserve the gifts but rather consume it on the same day of the liturgy.

    Lastly, I like to point out out that ALL THE ORIENTAL CHURCHES, except the Coptic Church and the Ethiopian Church, reserve the gifts. So, I do not believe this practice would be an obstacle to unity with the Eastern Churches since the Coptic Church is already in unity with other Churches practicing Reservation.

    I hope this clarifies the issue.

  • I know a Greek Orthodox priest who graduated from Holy Cross seminary in Boston and he did his final year specializing in Coptic rites, and he told me that (according to his research), the practise of keeping the Presanctified Gifts on the altar dropped some time during the post-Islamic invasion period because it simply became to 'dangerous' to keep it exposed on the altar to vandalism, fire, etc. This can possibly explain why the 'tabernacle' in the Coptic altar is not used to house the Elements anymore but is only used to hold the chalice during the Liturgy itself.

    He also told me something fascinating...that during the Islamic era, there were small seeing holes in the iconostasis and the deacons would peer through them to watch out for any disuturbances during the liturgy. And if there were any, they would immediately shut the altar doors and curtain to protect the Holy Eucharist. This must have been a latter practice however since we know that the iconostasis wasn't in it's current form until at least the 9th century and that this was adopted by the Coptic church as well.
  • Thanks Timothym for the insight.

    Pleasse refer to my earlir comment regarding the reason why the presanctified or Reservation practice stopped in the Coptic Church. It was not due to Islamic influence but rather to the canons and the teachings of the Fathers. All the Churches in Greece, Syria, Armenia were under the Islamic rule just as Egypt and none stopped the practice but the one in Egypt.

    As to how the deacon would site any disturbances, it was actually by him standing on the East, opposite to the priest, facing West and that was how he would keep his eyes on the people. This practice was received from St Mark himself and unfortunately disappeared in the last 50 years. However, there is still a trace of this rite during the Reconciliation prayer.

    Thanks and God Bless.
  • imikhail, that is not quite true.

    It is a fact that all of the Orthodox Churches in the Middle East used to celebrate the Pre-Sanctified Liturgy and have now ceased to do so. The Armenians had a PS Liturgy, the Syrians had a PS Liturgy and the Copts had a PS Liturgy. None now do so.

    The PS Liturgy persisted in Egypt to the 10th century, therefore despite the comments from some authorities in previous centuries it was not the case that it was eliminated until quite late. It does not make sense to have a canon in the 4th century from St Athanasius, and see the practice still used in the 10th century, and say that it ceased because of St Athanasius' canon.

    St Severus of Antioch composed the PS Liturgy and it is inconceivable that he did not support its use when he lived in Egypt and was the de-facto head of the whole anti-Chalcedonian communion.

    Father Peter
  • I am not sure what are we debating here.

    In my comments, I have said that the Reservation was used till the Middle Ages and the attitude in the Church of Alexandria, through the canons and the Father's teachings, was against the practice. Yes, it did take several centuries for the practice to stop.

    Why is that so strange?

    And I am arguing that it did not stop because of Muslims but because of the Church's teachings.

  • I don't see that the two are unconnected. Clearly the practice diminished as the Islamic conquest became an occupation. The very scale of the iconostasis seems to point to a defensive attitude, and when I visited Cairo it was said to me that it was built so solidly that it could be defended while the eucharistic elements were consumed. It didn't take several centuries, it took perhaps 600 years between St Athanasius, if you want to read him as speaking against the presanctified liturgy (I don't) and the last references in 10th century liturgical manuscripts.

    That all makes sense to me and bring together two elements, that there were authorities wishing to eliminate the practice and that the Islamic conquest made it reasonable to do so.

    I have also read other sources which suggest that the fact that the Coptic communities became very close and that it was easy to find a local priest to celebrate the liturgy on all occasions also diminished the need for the practice of reservation in the case of illness.

    I think I still want to disagree with you that the practice stopped because of the Church teaching, as if that were ever produced in isolation from the social and political context. The fact that it ceased also among the Syrians and Armenians suggests that there were similar constraints and situations which also led to it being no longer a necessary or appropriate response to changing circumstances.

    Father Peter
  • I beg to differ with you Fr Peter.

    First, the canon of Pope Khristodolo in the 11th century commanded the monks of St Makarius to stop the practice of Reservation, points to the fact that the Reservation practice already stopped in Cairo but was still practiced at the monastery. His reasoning is that the bread becomes rotten because of the warm weather and this does not befit the Body of the Lord.

    The iconostasis defended the Church whether the gifts were PS or not. The Church did not stop celebrating the liturgy because of the attacks but because the Muslims authorities ordered the churches to be shut.

    How did the fear of Muslims, as you suggest, stopped the PS liturgy and not the regular one?

    Then why did the Greeks, who were under the Islamic rule and suffered as much as the Oriental Churches, kept the practice? Why did not the Muslims influence their PS liturgy?

  • There are hardly any Greeks in Egypt. I would imagine that they felt that it was less of an issue.

    There are lots of places with warm weather and the elements of the eucharist do not rot when they are reserved. And it had not seemed to be a problem for the 1000 years over which the laity had taken the Holy Body home,  the hermits had taken the Holy Body away with them from the weekend liturgy, and the Holy Body had been reserved for the sick and for the Presanctified Liturgy. It does not make sense that the first time the issue of the elements rotting comes up is in the 11th century. Why had it not been described as a problem earlier?

    In the Synaxarium there is a description of the Holy Body being reserved for the sick in about 560-580 AD. There is no mention of it becoming rotten. In another account in the Synaxarium the Holy Body is taken to a dying person with no sense that it was unusual that it be reserved for that purpose. St Cyril of Alexandria had to teach that the life-giving Grace remains constantly in the eucharistic elements, and that it was madness to say that the "mystical blessing fails" if a portion were kept for another day, this would not make sense unless the Holy Body was reserved.

    For this early period it would seem that the sacrament was reserved almost entirely for the communion of the sick and dying.

    Later on it came to be reserved not only for the sick but for the Presanctified Liturgy. St Sahak of the Armenian Orthodox Church instructs in the 7th century that the Holy Body is to be reserved only from Sunday to Sunday, and no longer. In such a case it is not likely that the elements would become ruined. The penitential of St Theodore, the 7th century Syrian Archbishop of Canterbury, instructs that if the elements do become spoiled in any way then they should be disposed of reverently by being burned. There are many canons from the Western Church which show that the Holy Body should be renewed each Sunday, thereby preventing the likelihood of the elements being spoiled.

    The fact that Pope Christodoulos commanded the monks of St Makarious to stop reserving the elements doesn't seem to me to warrant an assumption that it had stopped everywhere else. He was addressing the monastery. And in fact the monastery had been the heart of Coptic Orthodoxy, preserving the faith through the worst times and providing many of the Patriarchs. Therefore it certainly could be said that the monastery preserved the authentic Coptic Orthodox tradition.

    It is clear that the practice died out, I am not disputing that at all, but it was very widespread over 1000 years or more in various forms, and I guess I am not convinced at all that it died out just because Pope Christodoulos criticised it. Nor was it rejected by very many significant authorities.
  • You are missing my point Fr. Peter.

    You said that the practiced died because of Islamic influence.

    My question is why the practice did not die in the Greek Church, the Church of Constaninople which was also under the Islamic rule during the Middle Ages just like the Church of Alexandria. Greece was under the Ottoman Empire just like Egypt.

    My argument is that there is no relation between the Muslim rule and the stopping of the practice. Thus, the practice stopped because of te Church teaching that I cited earlier.

  • But Constantinople was never under Islamic control in this period. It was not defeated until 1453. We are talking about between the 7th and 10th centuries.

    It is also the case that the present Greek liturgical practices were all introduced into the Greek Church in Egypt much later than this period since during this period the local Greek community used the Egyptian rites. It was only after this period that the Liturgy and practices of Constantinople were imposed.

    I do not know of evidence to show that the local Greek Church celebrated the PS Liturgy universally in Egypt at this time. We do know that it now uses the rites imposed by Constantinople. But that was a much later development.
  • Dear Fr Peter,

    My question still remains, what is the connection between Islam and the PS. Islamic brutality did not cease or change between the periods of 7th-10th century and the Middle Ages.

    In fact you mentioned that the PS was still in use in Egypt during the Middle Ages and ceased later on.

    If Islam was the really the final say on the PS liturgy, PS would have ceased in Egypt log time before the Middle Ages and would have also stopped the practice in Constantinople as well. History shows otherwise.

    Again, my point is that PS stopped in Egypt in accordance wit the Church teaching rather than the Islamic tyranny.

  • I am sorry, you seem to have missed the point that Constantinople was not conquered by Islam in this period.

    And you are trying to insist on only ONE factor. There must have been several. Islam was one of them. The opposition of some later church leaders was perhaps another, but we know little or nothing of the context in which any late regulations were proposed.

    You have suggested that it ceased because the Holy Body became spoiled but I have shown that doesn't stand up to 1000 years of practice.

    I don't know what you mean by Islamic brutality. If the PS had died out in the 10th century then it is irrelevant if the barbarity of the Muslims continued into the later Middle Ages. I have documentary evidence of the eucharistic elements being endangered and desecrated during this period. So it definitely happened and therefore is one reasonable cause for the abandonment of eucharistic reservation in the Coptic Church - but it is one cause, not the only one.
  • Constantinople did not fell to the Ottoman Empire till 1453. I think we agree about that.

    And we also agree, I believe, that the Church of Constantinople suffered the same fate as the Church of Alexandria. So, if Islam was the same factor in both Churches and PS ceased to exist in one but not the other (and yes I agree in different periods), then we can conclude that Islam was not a factor in stopping PS but some other(s).

    The point I am making is that with Islamic rule aside, we can see clearly that the teaching of the Alexandrian Church was the factor that stopped the practice and not Islam. There must be different teachings between the Greek Church and the Coptic with regards to the PS.


  • You are ignoring the fact that it WAS at vastly different periods. The Islamic rule of the 15th century was nothing like the rule of the 7th century.

    So I don't agree that Constantinople suffered the same fate as Alexandria. It was very different. Alexandria fell to the barbarian hordes of Arabia, Constantinople fell to the well established Ottoman Empire.

    Therefore you cannot dismiss the Islamic context, and I have offered to produce texts showing the desecration of the reserved sacrament by Muslims.

    There are no theological reasons for the PS not being celebrated or the sacrament being reserved for the sick. But there are practical, pastoral and social reasons.

    Since St Cyril endorsed the reservation of the sacrament, and St Severus composed the Presanctified Liturgy, there is no scope at all for saying that there is a theological issue.
  • I never said that there are theological reasons. I did provide the two positions within the Coptic church with regards to PS.

    What I am saying is that the reason it stopped is because of the canons that were introduced in the 11th century and later on, in addition to St Athanasius and St Basil, stopped the practice.

    Again, I am not saying that the PS is wrong. Only that it stopped in the Coptic Church because of the Popes' canons.

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